Reuters - Mon, 22 Feb 21:57:00 2010
Petter Northug unleashed a powerful surge over the last lap to claim his long-awaited first Olympic gold medal and victory for Norway in the men's team sprint freestyle in Whistler.
Northug, the sport's most dominant figure over the last four years, overhauled Germany's Axel Teichmann with a stunning display of skating on the sixth and final loop of the twisting 1.6km circuit.
In partnership with Oeystein Pettersen, Northug completed the course in 19 minutes one second and Germany took silver after Teichmann crossed the line in a photo finish with Russian Alexey Petukhov.
Petukhov, along with Nikolay Morilov, had to settle for the bronze while hosts Canada, represented by Devon Kershaw and Alex Harvey, finished fourth.
Northug, of whom so much had been expected coming into the Vancouver Winter Olympics, slid to the ground at the end of the race and punched his right fist in celebration.
He had started the final circuit in third position, behind Teichmann and Harvey, but relentlessly powered to the gold through sheer talent and determination.
"I wanted this medal," the 24-year-old said. "It's been a little bit up and down here so now I have the gold medal I am really happy.
"He (Pettersen) did a great job on his last leg and gave me a great position for the final leg."
A winner of three gold medals at last year's World Championships, Northug failed to live up to the great expectations in his first three events at the Games.
He was 41st in the men's 15km freestyle, won bronze in the individual sprint and finished 11th in the 30km pursuit after breaking his pole in a collision.
"My motivation was so big after the pursuit, it was more like I hoped to get my revenge in one of the last distances," said Northug, who heads the World Cup standings.
"On the last leg, I knew it was up to me again. I had the chance and now here we are together, with Oeystein. It was like a perfect race and it feels fantastic."
Northug unveiled his dazzling talents in glorious sunshine at Whistler Olympic Park where Norway, Russia and Germany duelled for supremacy early on.
Although France and Kazakhstan also featured prominently at the top as the race unfolded, it came down to a battle between Germany, Canada and Norway over the last 1.6km.
Veteran Teichmann led Harvey by 1.9 seconds after the fifth and final exchange but neither could do anything to stop Northug.
"He (Northug) did have really good skis and he did very well," said Teichmann, who was partnered by Tim Tscharnke.
"All I can say is that I did my best and we came in second - and we are happy about that."
Olympic champions Sweden suffered a shock elimination after Teodor Peterson fell and broke a pole early in their semi-final heat.
Peterson, partnered with 30km pursuit gold medallist Marcus Hellner, was second in the race when he stumbled on the last downhill stretch before entering the stadium on the second of six loops of the 1.6km circuit.
The Swedes, for whom Thobias Fredriksson and Bjorn Lind won Olympic gold at the 2006 Turin Games, did well to claw their way back to fifth spot before finishing eighth out of 10 teams.
"I fell on my ass. I broke the pole when I was standing up again," a distraught Peterson, 21, said.
"All I could do was go as fast as I could when I got up," added the Swede, a late replacement in the event for sprints specialist Emil Joensson who was suffering with a sore throat.
Peterson and Hellner, who won gold in the 30km pursuit, had been heavily favoured as medal contenders for the team sprint.
"Yesterday we began preparing for this and hopefully for a medal but today was not my day," said Peterson.
Britain's teenage pair of Andrew Young and Andrew Musgrave pulled out of their heat on the last lap.
Follow the Winter Olympics 24/7 on British Eurosport (Sky 410 / Virgin 521) and Eurosport HD (Sky 412) British Eurosport channels are streamed online via the Eurosport Player.